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Should You Ever Lie to Your Spouse?


Man talking to woman in train
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Most newlyweds would probably say it's never a good idea to lie to your spouse. But are you always completely honest with your husband or wife? Think about it. Does your spouse know what you really think of his family or every detail of your relationships with exes? The question remains: Is it ever okay to lie to your husband or wife?

A simple "no" is not a satisfactory answer to this question about lying. Sometimes, we lie to our spouses to spare their feelings or avoid an argument. Sometimes, we lie to them because we're hiding something or for own selfish reasons. Your motivation, say experts, is the main way to determine if your fibbing is justified.

"So, should we lie?" asks Michael D. Zentman, director of the Adelphi University Postgraduate Program in Marriage & Couple Therapy in Garden City, N.Y. in an e-mail. "Perhaps the answer can be found in the question: Whom am I protecting by withholding the truth? If you are protecting yourself, it's probably unwise to lie."

Like anything else in marriage, you and your spouse should discuss and manage your expectations when it comes to lying. For instance, you might tell your husband that you do not want to know about his previous relationships or how annoying he finds your mom. But you want him to be truthful about his sexual health and if your mom steps on his toes when it comes to parenting your children. You might also tell him that it is all right to tell white lies to spare your feelings but you won't tolerate lies about where he's been going with his friends. Of course, you must determine for yourself what's tolerable and what's not and then share those ideas with your spouse.

"My wife has taught me to say, 'Smashing,' when she asks about a new dress, even if I think it's the wrong cut and color," says Paul Ekman, author of Telling Lies (W. W. Norton & Company, revised in 2009). "She doesn't really want my opinion."

Indeed many times we are not looking for complete honesty from our spouse. Instead, we want comfort and security, and that's all right, too.

"Overtly the question, 'How does this suit look on me?' requests a fashion opinion," writes Zentman. "But covertly the question being asked is more likely, 'Do you still find me attractive?' or 'Do I still look youthful?' or 'I haven't gained too much weight, have I?'"

You have to really know your spouse to read between the lines of the question being asked. Once you can, you will realize that some white lies can protect your spouse's confidence in both his attractiveness and the heat in your relationship. Of course, if you are no longer attracted to your spouse, the white lie is no longer white. Then, it becomes a big lie that could erode your marriage further. In that instance, you should be honest about the lost spark and seek counseling to try and reignite the passion in your relationship.

Certain lies can damage your relationship, even if they seem harmless or even necessary to protect the marriage. If you're lying to your spouse to save yourself from a well-deserved confrontation, then you're doing a disservice to your marriage, writes Zentman.

"Even lies about affairs are intended to protect the relationship," writes Zentman. "But lies of this magnitude do far more harm than good."

Your spouse has the right to know if you've begun a relationship with someone else. Besides having broken your vows, having an emotional or physical affair is usually an indicator of other problems to which you need to tend. Although an affair could end your marriage, a prolonged lie about it will only make matters worse. No one likes to feel foolish or disrespected.

Another big issue about which people often lie is money. Some couples hide purchases they've made or keep secret banking accounts. Others fail to tell their spouses about debts. These kinds of lies are dangerous because like those of an affair, they erode trust and make problems bigger. In addition, some of these lies could put you at risk for trouble with the IRS or when trying to purchase a home in the future. Regardless of the type of money lie, it's better to be open about this issue because it causes a lot of fights in marriage, too. Of course, you always have the option of keeping separate accounts.

The bottom line is that most lies will be bad for your marriage. But white lies don't necessarily have to be banned. Consider your spouse's feelings and communicate your expectations about honesty.

"The question of 'to lie or not to lie' is a complex one," writes Zentman. "It is rarely simply black or white. There are subtleties and nuances embedded in this issue that require thoughtfulness and self reflection."

While protecting the relationship is important, protecting the trust you've grown should be your top priority. Without trust, there will be no relationship to protect.

"Be trusting. It's good for your health and relationship," says Ekman. "To be suspicious is bad for your health and relationship."

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